Bengals hoping Hardy Nickerson Jr. is another undrafted gem at linebacker

There’s one thing that’s pretty consistent when it comes to football players who are sons of football coaches: they’re very smart, well-prepared, and among the hardest workers on every team they play on.

And when your dad is both a coach and one of the best defensive players of his time, it’s a good bet you fit that mold.

Hardy Nickerson, the son of 16-year NFL player Hardy Nickerson and a linebacker like his pops, is among the Cincinnati Bengals rookie free-agent class (the two men don’t have the same middle name, so technically he isn’t a junior). Scouts say he ticks all of the coach’s son boxes in terms of preparation, smarts and leadership.

Hardy Nickerson at the NFL combine; he has signed with Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent. (AP)

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the younger Nickerson ended up with the Bengals: Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis was once Nickerson the elder’s position coach, with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lewis entered the NFL coaching ranks with the Steelers in 1992, when Nickerson the elder was a sixth-year veteran.

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Nickerson the younger spent his final season at Illinois, where he played for his father, the Illini’s defensive coordinator. Despite that being his only season with the team, Nickerson was a team captain; he was also chosen as a team captain at Cal, where he spent four years and was a three-year starter.

Nickerson the elder ended his accomplished NFL career with the Packers in 2002; that’s where, as an 8-year old, his son began playing the game. Nickerson the younger’s first-ever game with his Pop Warner team was at Lambeau Field.

Because of his father, Nickerson the younger attended eight different schools growing up. He and his twin sister, Haleigh, were born in 1994, and spent the first five years of their lives in Tampa; then it was on to Jacksonville, where the elder Nickerson played for two seasons, and then to Green Bay for one year.

Two returns to the Tampa area and Chicago are also part of the family’s journey, as is the California Bay Area – the elder Nickerson was head coach at powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd High in Oakland for three years. The younger Nickerson was one of his players there as well.

“(Playing in the NFL is) something I always wanted to do. I looked up to him and always wanted to do what he did,” the younger Nickerson told the Bengals’ website this week. “I was exposed to the locker room. That created that love for the game. I always wanted to play. You can just go out there and let it loose. Especially at my position. You have to be a guy that’s passionate, physical, and loves to play the game.”

The Bengals have found some solid linebackers in the undrafted pool, including Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict.